adding and removing complexity from models

I had a really interesting conversation with a guy about modelling information.  what I did when talking to him is in one case insist that his model be made more simple because adding more variation in the model was unhelpful, and then in another case in the same conversation, insist his model be made more complicated to account for the available information that didn’t fit his model.

On reflection I realised that I had applied two opposing forces to models of information and could only vaguely explain why.  With that in mind I decided to work out what was going on.  The following is obvious, but that’s why I am writing it out, so that no one else has to do the obvious thing.

Case where a model should be simplified

This all comes down to what you are measuring or describing.  If you are trying to describe something rather general, like “what impact do number of beach-goers have on the pollution at the beach?”, it’s probably not important what gender, age, race, time spent at the beach or socioeconomic status the beach goers are.  (With the exception of maybe socioeconomic status of the surrounding geopolitical territory), what is important is maybe two pieces of information:

  1. A measure of the number of beach goers
  2. A measure of the pollution

That’s it.  This would be a case for reducing the survey of beach goers down to a counter of beach goers and a daily photo of the remaining state of the beach at the end of the day (which could be compared to other similar photos).  Or even just – 3 photos, one at 9am (start), one at 1pm (peak) and one at 5pm (end).  This model needs no more moving parts.  The day you want to start using historic information to decide how many beach cleaners you want to employ, you can do that from the limited but effective data you have gathered.

Case where a model should have more moving parts added to it.

Let’s continue the same example.  You have 3 photos of each day, but sometimes the 1pm photo is deserted.  Nearly no one is at the beach, and you wonder why.  It’s also messing with your predictions because there is still a bit of rubbish at 5pm even though very few people were at the beach.  The model no longer explains the state of the world.  The map is wrong.  But that’s okay.  We can fix it by adding more information.  You notice that most days the model is good, so there might be something going on for the other days which needs a + k factor to the equation (+k is something added in chemistry, in algebra it’s sometimes called a +c as in y=mx+b+c, and physics +x, but generally adding a variable to an equation is common to all science fields).  Some new variable.

Let’s say that being omniscient to our own made up examples we know that the cause is the weather.  On stormy windy rainy days – no one goes to the beach, but some rubbish washes up.  Does this match the data? almost perfectly.  Does this help explain the map?  Yes.  Is it necessary?  That depends on what you are doing with the information.  Maybe it’s significant enough in this scenario that it is necessary.

Second example

The example that came up in conversation was his own internal model that there is fundamentally something different between someone who does exercise, and someone who Doesn’t exercise.  I challenged this model for having too much complexity.  I argue that the model of – there is a hidden and secret moving part between does/doesn’t exercise, is a model that doesn’t describe the world better than a model without that moving part.

The model does something else (and found its way into existence for this reason).  If you find yourself on one side of the model (i.e. the “I don’t exercise”) then you can protect yourself from attributing the failure to exercise to your own inability to do it by declaring that there is a hidden and secret moving part that prevents me from being in the other observable group.  This preserves your non-changing and let’s you get away with it for a longer time.  I know this model because that is what I did.  I held this model very strongly.  And then I went out and searched for the hidden and secret moving part that I could change in order to move myself into the other group.  There was no hidden and secret moving part.  Or if there was I couldn’t find it.  However, I did manage to stop holding the model that there was some hidden and secret moving part, and instead just start exercising more.

In figuring out if this model is real or a made up model to protect your own brain from being critical of itself, start to think of what the world would look like if it were true.  If there was some difference between people who do exercise and people who do not – we might see people clustered in observable groups and never be able to change between them (This is not true because we regularly see people publishing their weight loss journeys, we also regularly see people getting fatter and unhealthier, suggesting that travel in either direction is entirely possible and happens all the time).  If there were something describable it would be as obvious as different species, in fact – thinking evolutionarily – if such a thing existed, it’s likely that it would have significantly shaped the state of the world already to be completely different…  Given that we can’t know for sure, this might not be a very strong argument.

If you got this far – as I did and wondered, so why can’t I be in the other group – I have news for you.  You can.

  • Does this pattern of models with too many moving parts sound familiar to another model you have seen in action?
  • Is there a model that you use that could do with more moving parts?

Meta: this took an hour to write.  If I were to spend more time on it, it would probably be to tighten up the examples and maybe provide more examples.  I am not sure that such time would be useful to you and am interested in if you think it will be useful.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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many draft concepts

I create ideas at about the rate of 2 a day, without trying to.  I write at about a rate of 1.5 a day.  Which leaves me always behind.  Even if I write about the best ideas I can think of, some good ones might never be covered.  This is an effort to draft out a good stack of them so that maybe it can help me not have to write them all out, by better defining which ones are the good ones and which ones are a bit more useless.

With that in mind, in no particular order – a list of unwritten posts:

From my old table of contents

Goals of your lesswrong group – As a guided/workthrough exercise in deciding why the group exists and what it should do.  Help people work out what they want out of it (do people know)? setting goals, doing something particularly interesting or routine, having fun, changing your mind, being activists in the world around you.  Whatever the reasons you care about, work them out and move towards them.  Nothing particularly groundbreaking in the process here.  Sit down with the group with pens and paper, maybe run a resolve cycle, maybe talk about ideas and settle on a few, then decide how to carry them out.  Relevant links: Sydney meetup,  group resources (estimate 2hrs to write)

Goals interrogation + Goal levels – Goal interrogation is about asking <is this thing I want to do actually a goal of mine> and <is my current plan the best way to achieve that>, goal levels are something out of Sydney Lesswrong that help you have mutual long term goals and supporting short term goal.  There are 3 main levels, Dream, Year, Daily (or approximate) you want dream goals like going to the moon, you want yearly goals like getting another year further in your degree and you want daily goals like studying today that contribute to the upper level goals.  Any time you are feeling lost you can look at the guide you set out for yourself and use it to direct you. (3hrs)

How to human – A zero to human guide. A guide for basic functionality of a humanoid system. Something of a conglomeration of maslow, mental health, so you feel like shit and system thinking.  Am I conscious?Am I breathing? Am I bleeding or injured (major or minor)? Am I falling or otherwise in danger and about to cause the earlier questions to return false?  Do I know where I am?  Am I safe?  Do I need to relieve myself (or other bodily functions, i.e. itchy)?  Have I had enough water? sleep? food?  Is my mind altered (alcohol or other drugs)?  Am I stuck with sensory input I can’t control (noise, smells, things touching me)?  Am I too hot or too cold?  Is my environment too hot or too cold?  Or unstable?  Am I with people or alone? Is this okay?  Am I clean (showered, teeth, other personal cleaning rituals)?  Have I had some sunlight and fresh air in the past few days?  Have I had too much sunlight or wind in the past few days?  Do I feel stressed?  Okay?  Happy?  Worried?  Suspicious?  Scared? Was I doing something?  What am I doing?  do I want to be doing something else?  Am I being watched (is that okay?)?  Have I interacted with humans in the past 24 hours?  Have I had alone time in the past 24 hours?  Do I have any existing conditions I can run a check on – i.e. depression?  Are my valuables secure?  Are the people I care about safe?  (4hrs)

List of common strategies for getting shit done – things like scheduling/allocating time, pomodoros, committing to things externally, complice, beeminder, other trackers. (4hrs)

List of superpowers and kryptonites – when asking the question “what are my superpowers?” and “what are my kryptonites?”. Knowledge is power; working with your powers and working out how to avoid your kryptonites is a method to improve yourself.  What are you really good at, and what do you absolutely suck at and would be better delegating to other people.  The more you know about yourself, the more you can do the right thing by your powers or weaknesses and save yourself troubles.

List of effective behaviours – small life-improving habits that add together to make awesomeness from nothing. And how to pick them up.  Short list: toothbrush in the shower, scales in front of the  fridge, healthy food in the most accessible position in the fridge, make the unhealthy stuff a little more inacessible, keep some clocks fast – i.e. the clock in your car (so you get there early),  prepare for expected barriers ahead of time (i.e. packing the gym bag and leaving it at the door), and more.

Stress prevention checklist – feeling off? You want to have already outsourced the hard work for “things I should check on about myself” to your past self. Make it easier for future you. Especially in the times that you might be vulnerable.  Generate a list of things that you want to check are working correctly.  i.e. did I drink today?  Did I do my regular exercise?  Did I take my medication?  Have I run late today?  Do I have my work under control?

Make it easier for future you. Especially in the times that you might be vulnerable. – as its own post in curtailing bad habits that you can expect to happen when you are compromised.  inspired by candy-bar moments and turning them into carrot-moments or other more productive things.  This applies beyond diet, and might involve turning TV-hour into book-hour (for other tasks you want to do instead of tasks you automatically do)

A p=np approach to learning – Sometimes you have to learn things the long way; but sometimes there is a short cut. Where you could say, “I wish someone had just taken me on the easy path early on”. It’s not a perfect idea; but start looking for the shortcuts where you might be saying “I wish someone had told me sooner”. Of course the answer is, “but I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway” which is something that can be worked on as well. (2hrs)

Rationalists guide to dating – Attraction. Relationships. Doing things with a known preference. Don’t like unintelligent people? Don’t try to date them. Think first; then act – and iteratively experiment; an exercise in thinking hard about things before trying trial-and-error on the world. Think about places where you might meet the kinds of people you want to meet, then use strategies that go there instead of strategies that flop in the general direction of progress.  (half written)

Training inherent powers (weights, temperatures, smells, estimation powers) – practice makes perfect right? Imagine if you knew the temperature always, the weight of things by lifting them, the composition of foods by tasting them, the distance between things without measuring. How can we train these, how can we improve.  Probably not inherently useful to life, but fun to train your system 1! (2hrs)

Strike to the heart of the question. The strongest one; not the one you want to defeat – Steelman not Strawman. Don’t ask “how do I win at the question”; ask, “am I giving the best answer to the best question I can give”.  More poetic than anything else – this post would enumerate the feelings of victory and what not to feel victorious about, as well as trying to feel what it’s like to be on the other side of the discussion to yourself, frustratingly trying to get a point across while a point is being flung at yourself. (2hrs)

How to approach a new problem – similar to the “How to solve X” post.  But considerations for working backwards from a wicked problem, as well as trying “The least bad solution I know of”, Murphy-jitsu, and known solutions to similar problems.  Step 0. I notice I am approaching a problem.

Turning Stimming into a flourish – For autists, to make a presentability out of a flaw.

How to manage time – estimating the length of future tasks (and more), covered in notch system, and do tasks in a different order.  But presented on it’s own.

Spices – Adventures in sensory experience land.  I ran an event of spice-smelling/guessing for a group of 30 people.  I wrote several documents in the process about spices and how to run the event.  I want to publish these.  As an exercise – it’s a fun game of guess-the-spice.

Wing it VS Plan – All of the what, why, who, and what you should do of the two.  Some people seem to be the kind of person who is always just winging it.  In contrast, some people make ridiculously complicated plans that work.  Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle.  I suggest that the more of a planner you can be the better because you can always fall back on winging it, and you probably will.  But if you don’t have a plan and are already winging it – you can’t fall back on the other option.  This concept came to me while playing ingress, which encourages you to plan your actions before you make them.

On-stage bias – The changes we make when we go onto a stage include extra makeup to adjust for the bright lights, and speaking louder to adjust for the audience which is far away. When we consider the rest of our lives, maybe we want to appear specifically X (i.e, confident, friendly) so we should change ourselves to suit the natural skews in how we present based on the “stage” we are appearing on.  appear as the person you want to appear as, not the person you naturally appear as.

Creating a workspace – considerations when thinking about a “place” of work, including desk, screen, surrounding distractions, and basically any factors that come into it.  Similar to how the very long list of sleep maintenance suggestions covers environmental factors in your sleep environment but for a workspace.

Posts added to the list since then

Doing a cost|benefit analysis – This is something we rely on when enumerating the options and choices ahead of us, but something I have never explicitly looked into.  Some costs that can get overlooked include: Time, Money, Energy, Emotions, Space, Clutter, Distraction/Attention, Memory, Side effects, and probably more.  I’d like to see a How to X guide for CBA. (wikipedia)

Extinction learning at home – A cross between intermittent reward (the worst kind of addiction), and what we know about extinguishing it.  Then applying that to “convincing” yourself to extinguish bad habits by experiential learning.  Uses the CFAR internal Double Crux technique, precommit yourself to a challenge, for example – “If I scroll through 20 facebook posts in a row and they are all not worth my time, I will be convinced that I should spend less time on facebook because it’s not worth my time”  Adjust 20 to whatever position your double crux believes to be true, then run a test and iterate.  You have to genuinely agree with the premise before running the test.  This can work for a number of committed habits which you want to extinguish.  (new idea as at the writing of this post)

How to write a dating ad – A suggestion to include information that is easy to ask questions about (this is hard).  For example; don’t write, “I like camping”, write “I like hiking overnight with my dog”, giving away details in a way that makes them worth inquiring about.  The same reason applies to why writing “I’m a great guy” is really not going to get people to believe you, as opposed to demonstrating the claim. (show, don’t tell)

How to give yourself aversions – an investigation into aversive actions and potentially how to avoid collecting them when you have a better understanding of how they happen.  (I have not done the research and will need to do that before publishing the post)

How to give someone else an aversion – similar to above, we know we can work differently to other people, and at the intersection of that is a misunderstanding that can leave people uncomfortable.

Lists – Creating lists is a great thing, currently in draft – some considerations about what lists are, what they do, what they are used for, what they can be used for, where they come in handy, and the suggestion that you should use lists more. (also some digital list-keeping solutions)

Choice to remember the details – this stems from choosing to remember names, a point in the conversation where people sometimes tune out.  As a mindfulness concept you can choose to remember the details. (short article, not exactly sure why I wanted to write about this)

What is a problem – On the path of problem solving, understanding what a problem is will help you to understand how to attack it.  Nothing more complicated than this picture to explain it.  The barrier is a problem.  This doesn’t seem important on it’s own but as a foundation for thinking about problems it’s good to have  sitting around somewhere.


How to/not attend a meetup – for anyone who has never been to a meetup, and anyone who wants the good tips on etiquette for being the new guy in a room of friends.  First meetup: shut up and listen, try not to be too much of an impact on the existing meetup group or you might misunderstand the culture.

Noticing the world, Repercussions and taking advantage of them – There are regularly world events that I notice.  Things like the olympics, Pokemon go coming out, the (recent) spaceX rocket failure.  I try to notice when big events happen and try to think about how to take advantage of the event or the repercussions caused by that event.  Motivated to think not only about all the olympians (and the fuss leading up to the olympics), but all the people at home who signed up to a gym because of the publicity of the competitive sport.  If only I could get in on the profit of gym signups…

leastgood but only solution I know of – So you know of a solution, but it’s rubbish.  Or probably is.  Also you have no better solutions.  Treat this solution as the best solution you have (because it is) and start implementing it, as you do that – keep looking for other solutions.  But at least you have a solution to work with!

Self-management thoughts – When you ask yourself, “am I making progress?”, “do I want to be in this conversation?” and other self management thoughts.  And an investigation into them – it’s a CFAR technique but their writing on the topic is brief.  (needs research)

instrumental supply-hoarding behaviour – A discussion about the benefits of hoarding supplies for future use.  Covering also – what supplies are not a good idea to store, and what supplies are.  Maybe this will be useful for people who store things for later days, and hopefully help to consolidate and add some purposefulness to their process.

list of sub groups that I have tried – Before running my local lesswrong group I partook in a great deal of other groups.  This was meant as a list with comments on each group.

If you have nothing to do – make better tools for use when real work comes along – This was probably going to be a poetic style motivation post about exactly what the title suggests.  Be Prepared.

what other people are good at (as support) – When reaching out for support, some people will be good at things that other people are not.  For example – emotional support, time to spend on each other, ideas for solving your problems.  Different people might be better or worse than others.  Thinking about this can make your strategies towards solving your problems a bit easier to manage.  Knowing what works and what does not work, or what you can reliably expect when you reach out for support from some people – is going to supercharge your fulfilment of those needs.

Focusing – An already written guide to Eugine Gendlin’s focusing technique.  That needs polishing before publishing.  The short form: treat your system 1 as a very powerful machine that understands your problems and their solutions more than you do; use your system 2 to ask it questions and see what it returns.

Rewrite: how to become a 1000 year old vampire – I got as far as breaking down this post and got stuck at draft form before rewriting.  Might take another stab at it soon.

Should you tell people your goals? This thread in a post.  In summary: It depends on the environment, the wrong environment is actually demotivational, the right environment is extra motivational.

Meta: this took around 4 hours to write up.  Which is ridiculous.  I noticed a substantial number of breaks being taken – not sure if that relates to the difficulty of creating so many summaries or just me today.  Still.  This experiment might help my future writing focus/direction so I figured I would try it out.

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preference over null preference

For some parts of life it is better to exist with a prepared preference, for other parts of life it is better to exist without a prepared preference.  This is going to be about looking at the sets of preferences and what might be better in each scenario.

On the object level some examples:

  • I like blue hair
  • I don’t like the colour red
  • I like to eat Chinese food
  • My favourite animal is a frog
  • I don’t like sport
  • I would rather spend time in a library than a nightclub
  • I love bacon icecream
  • This is my favourite hat

The specific examples are irrelevant but hopefully you get the idea.  Having a preference is about having full set and reducing it to a smaller set.  Example: one colour is my favourite out of the full set of colours.

In contrast, a null preference might look like this:

  • I don’t care what kind of pizza we eat
  • I eat anything
  • I just like being with friends, it doesn’t matter what we do
  • I love reading
  • I’ve never really had a favourite animal
  • Use your best judgement for me
  • I can’t decide what to wear

While null preferences are technically just another form of preference, I want to separate them out for a moment so that we can talk about them.

Deciding whether you should hold a preference, even if you didn’t previously have one – can be an effective strategy for making decisions where there were previously difficulties.  The benefit of having a preference is that it stands as a pre-commitment to yourself to maintain existing choices on certain choice-nodes.

The disadvantage of using this strategy is that if your preference fails to be fulfilled then you are at risk of disappointment.

If you get to the supermarket and can’t decide which type of jam (or jelly for american;) to buy, you can consult an existing preference for blueberry jam and skip the whole idea of considering other types of jam.

For preference failure, if you prefer blueberry but the store doesn’t have any, you risk leaving without jam, or being left with a choice less desirable like strawberry.

Nothing about your preference on the world effects the world until you interact with it.  For the jam example: deciding you like blueberry will not cause blueberry jam to be available to you.  Modifying the map will not immediately impact the territory.  If you go on an endless tirade everywhere you travel – of demanding blueberry jam, chances are that at some point people will be more motivated to be prepared for the mad blueberry jammer.  However the instant that you decide to have a preference, you have not yet caused any impact on the world.  So the instantaneous effect of having a preference is nothing.

There will be times where you are not in control of the choice nodes available to you.  There are times when you will be.  That doesn’t seem relevant to which is better.

There will be times when there will be more choices and times when there will be less.  That doesn’t seem relevant.

There will be times when your preference will be easily fulfilled and times when it will be hard or impossible.  That doesn’t seem relevant.

There are big expensive important choices, and small irrelevant insignificant choices.  Apart from desiring to spending more time on big expensive important choices, that doesn’t seem relevant either.

There will be days with more willpower and days with less willpower, (and days exist on which willpower does not deplete).

Should I change what I do right now?

I don’t know.  What do you do now?  Can we derive knowledge from the pre-existing system to make progress on what should change towards the future.

Try this:

  • Think of 10 decisions you have made today (or recently). This might be the hard part.
  • Were they all good decisions?  Do you already know what would have been better decisions in those places?  Can you identify the ones that need improvement already?
  • For each one, think of what metric would allow you to know you have made them better.

    • Better outcomes as a result of your decision
    • Faster decisions
    • Decisions that take something into account
    • Decisions that are more inline with high level or distant goals
    • Decisions that make you look good to your peers
    • Decisions that leave you feeling more of a certain feeling – free, safe, thrifty, skilled, powerful…
  • For each decision and for each metric, is a better outcome likely to come from having a preference, or having a null preference.

As I get to this point I don’t have a defining thesis for this concept.  I don’t have an answer as to whether preference can be ruled better than a null.  Or that you might want to reduce your identity down until you have all null preferences, leading you to flexibility and freedom (of course such a reduction leads to a burden of maintaining the system of nulls as well).

I do want to open up this concept to you to decide and influence the use of the idea.  If you hold a preference too strongly you risk the possibility of making the wrong choice over and over.  If you hold it too loosely you risk indifference towards the world (maybe part of the answer is to look at where you are now in terms of decision problems and consider which direction you want to travel towards).  I don’t know.

  • How can this concept be used?
  • What comes to mind as a powerful example of preference over null preference, or nulls over active preference?
  • Where do you stand now?  And if you were to move in any direction which would it be?
  • Does the application of preference/null solve or reshape any existing problems in your life?

Meta: 2 hours writing, then I got stuck when I realised I didn’t have a concluding thesis (didn’t actually have the answers) but I wanted to release the incomplete concept anyway to see if anyone else could come up with ideas around it.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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New music powers

I have written before about how I am pretty terrible at canvassing music in my head.  This lends to the appalling ability (to musically oriented people) to be able to do things like listen to the same song on repeat 500 times or more in a row without being bothered by it either way.  I never cared more than the sense of “this is interesting but irrelevant” on the idea.

Being indifferent to music has given me the ability to be completely useless at holding a musical preference, or explore the value of music in terms of going to music events, or participating in musical experiences.

This week something changed!  Or more accurately last week.  Last week I was listening to a piece for the n’th time, but at the same time was quite badly sleep deprived.  As I was listening the music started falling apart.  Different parts of the music changed volume so that I could isolate different instruments and follow different features of the music.  At the time, being a bit sleep deprived I took it as a warning that maybe it was time to go to bed.  hint hint: your going a little nuts.

Today I noticed I can still do it.  When I am no longer sleep deprived I can pay attention to music in a different way than I used to be able to.  I can single out the drums and only “listen” to that part, or the guitar, or the vocals.  (it’s pop music on the radio).

Of course the reason I bothered to write about it, and the reason that it’s interesting is; as half the readers can probably imagine – I told a musical friend of mine that I had developed new powers and he said,

Wait, people can’t normally do that?

So I get to add this to the pile of typical mind, sensory perception assumptions that we make when we interpret our own individual world through our own senses.  What if your senses worked a bit differently?  How much would that fundamentally change how you operate as a human?  How much you assume about the world around you and how it works?  And how everyone else works?

Question:  What are your natural assumptions about how your senses work?  Have you ever noticed anyone else acting on different basic natural assumptions?

Meta: this took 45mins to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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Changing time zones

With a few of my new organisation and time management prediction algorithms I have found that I can plan down to a few minutes accurately.  I noticed something today that surprised me.

I wear two watches.  The history of this goes back more than 10 years, but today I wear two watches because one of them is analog and never runs out of battery and the other is digital and tracks heart rate, skin temp, perspiration and other metrics while also being a smart digital watch and telling the time, but only has a 4 day long battery life.

My digital watch updates to whatever time my phone is set to, which updates to global servers etc. so that watch is the right time.  I accidentally set my analog watch fast and then noticed I would get places just on time, or quite very exactly on time instead of 5 minutes late.  I really lucked out with this behaviour, because it took me a while to figure out what is happening.  Or what I think is happening.

When I am running late, I check the time in a system 1 way, which means I glance at my watch and continue about my day.  Then my brain takes the information granted by the visual angle of the hands and converts that into time for me to work out if I am running late or on time.  By having my analog watch fast, I will take actions that involve assumptions that the time is actually faster than it is.  For example, deciding to leave my house because I “should have left already”, instead of spending another 5 minutes on whatever I am doing.

If I am planning tasks for the future, or doing other time-checking behaviour, I do it using system 2, I naturally check both my watches so that I get an accurate feel for the time now.


Today I was struck by the idea I was suddenly running late.  Which is not a feeling I was expecting given that I was in fact running squarely on time.  Where what actually transpired was that I was looking at computer time when I decided to go in the shower, and when I got out of the shower I looked at analog time.  Which put me squarely past the “running right on time” and into the “definitely running late”. In other words I changed time zone on myself.

This whole post is to note that noticing when things surprise you is an excellent habit to have.  This case was pretty cut and dry as I analysed why I was late and concluded that I in fact was not.  But the next thing to surprise me might not be so obvious.

Question: What has surprised you recently?  What happened, how did your map of the world fail to explain what was going to happen?

Meta: this took an hour to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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A model of arguments

Why do we argue, when we could be discussing things in a productive manner? Arguments often occur because the parties involved simply don’t have the tools to transmit their ideas clearly.  In this kind of situation, the whole conversation can completely break down. It’s easy to spend a lot of time saying “You’re wrong”, without accomplishing anything.  

Let’s imagine two people having an argument, represented by a Venn diagram.  A in the black, and B in the blue.  They each see the issue slightly differently. The blue circle to represent B’s opinion and a black circle to represent A’s opinion.  The concept of “You’re wrong” falls into the area of describing the other person’s ideas.

Person A says, “You’re wrong” to Person B.  A description of the state of affairs of B’s ideas.  Not one that really represents A’s own ideas.  Naturally, Person B says, “No you’re wrong” back, equally making the unfounded claim on A’s conceptual real-estate.  The thing that is hard to demonstrate is the conflict that is accidentally generated by crossing into each other’s territory to declare things.


To do this creates a crossing-over of ideas.  


We don’t even need to know what the argument is about, but we can expect something like this to happen:



Now suppose instead of Person A saying, “You’re wrong”, where they place the burden of argument (and proof) on the opposition, they now say, “We disagree”.  


Person B can now continue to make the same argument of “You’re wrong”.  But so long as Person A shrugs and replies “We disagree”, there is no conflict in the argument.  


For some Person Bs, Person A might get lucky, and the two could end up with a happy middle ground of  “Yes, we disagree”.  This is already a step in the right direction, and will let the pair continue to sort out precisely where and how they disagree  On the other hand, a stubborn Person B will still present a problem.


Hey, that’s the internet for you! You win some, you lose some.


Nonetheless, the shared ground offered by “We disagree” will often spur constructive discussion.


As it turns out, there is another way.  When you go to understand someone else’s idea, instead of starting with “You are wrong”, consider starting with, “I am wrong”. Right from the start, this gives you an advantage. Rather than starting off from a position of conflict, you start off in a position of equality.


Sometimes the other party won’t accept your peace offering. They will bristle and rage and prepare for the offensive.


But it’s far more common to see an offer of equality met by an acceptance of that equality. Instead of things going downhill, this usually happens:


Or this:



And a pleasant discussion can ensue.

Why is this so great? Because what we’re aiming for here – what we really want out of discussions – is this:





What we are aiming for is to trade knowledge until we can conclude the answers in the end.

This style of measured, polite and constructive conversation can only occur when parties meet each other on equal terms.

If there’s one lesson to take home from this post, it’s that the way you deliver your argument can easily be what makes it powerful. If you come in throwing punches, ready to take your opponent down a notch or two, you might enjoy yourself – but don’t expect to have a constructive discussion. Whereas if you approach your opponent as an equal from the shared ground of “We disagree”, or even from the vulnerable position of “I am wrong” – well, what reasonable opponent could disagree with that?

This post took me weeks of thinking about, and only 3 hours to write down and draw the first time.  But it was rubbish.  Didn’t make sense.  The rewrite was contributed by the Captain and the slack, taking another 2 hours.  This version gets the point of the idea across.  I sent the original post to Tim@waitbutwhy but he is very busy and declined to draw pictures to go along with it.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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Ring fitting factors and dehydration detection experiment

I have noticed recently that the ring I am wearing no longer fits as well as it used to.  Over the same period I have had several events mess with my regular routine, including my regular behaviours around drinking water and automatically staying hydrated, locally the seasons have changed and at the same time I have lost around 10% of my body weight, and heavily modified my diet and exercise routine.

Through some quick searching I have a short list of common causes of rings not fitting.

  • Pollen and other allergens
  • weather features (humid, cold – shrink, hot – expand)
  • dehydration
  • circulation problems, and other major health changes (pregnancy, quit smoking, stroke or heart problems, major weight change)

I am motivated to believe that the cause of my ring not fitting is related to dehydration and none of the other causes that it could possibly be.  If that is the case, and if this information can be used by other people, I have found a quick, easy, analog detection method for dehydration (where existing methods are not great).

I assume that if my ring is loose, I am in need of hydration.  I plan to test this premise over the next several months and will publish what I find.

This does seem too easy, so I suspect I am missing details in my simple theory.  For example – the effect size of other causes of variability in finger size, (e.g. weight loss, the weather)

Meta: this took 30mins to write.

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No negative press agreement

What is a no negative press agreement?

A no negative press agreement binds a media outlet’s consent to publish information provided by a person with the condition that they be not portrayed negatively by the press.

Why would a person want that?

In recognising that the press has powers above and beyond every-day people to publish information and spread knowledge and perspective about an issue that can be damaging to an individual.  An individual while motivated by the appeal of publicity, is also concerned about the potential damage caused by negative press.

Every person is the hero of their own story, from one’s own perspective they performed actions that were justified and motivated by their own intention and worldview, no reasonable person would be able to tell their story (other than purposefully) in which they are spun as the negative conspirator of a plot, actively causing negative events on the world for no reason.

Historically, humans have been motivated to care more about bad news than good news, for reasons that expand on the idea that bad news might ring your death (and be a cause of natural selection) and good news would be irrelevant for survival purposes.  Today we are no longer in that historic period, yet we still pay strong attention to bad news.  It’s clear that bad news can personally effect individuals – not only those in the stories, but others experiencing the bad news can be left with a negative worldview or motivated to be upset or distraught.  In light of the fact that bad news is known to spread more than good news, and also risks negatively affecting us mentally, we are motivated to choose to avoid bad news, both in not creating it, not endorsing it and not aiding in it’s creation.

The binding agreement is designed to do several things:

  • protect the individual from harm
  • reduce the total volume of negative press in the world
  • decrease the damage caused by negative press in the world
  • bring about the future we would rather live in
  • protect the media outlet from harming individuals

Does this limit news-maker’s freedom to publish?

That is not the intent.  On the outset, it’s easy to think that it could have that effect, and perhaps in a very shortsighted way it might have that effect.  Shortly after the very early effects, it will have a net positive effect of creating news of positive value, protecting the media from escalating negativity, and bringing about the future we want to see in the world.  If it limits media outlets in any way it should be to stop them from causing harm.  At which point any non-compliance by a media entity will signal the desire to act as agents of harm in the world.

Why would a media outlet be an agent of harm?  Doesn’t that go against the principles of no negative press?

While media outlets (or humans), set out with the good intentions of not having a net negative effect on the world, they can be motivated by other concerns.  For example, the value of being more popular, or the direction from which they are paid for their efforts (for example advertising revenue).  The concept of competing commitment, and being motivated by conflicting goals is best covered by Scott under the name moloch.

The no negative press agreement is an attempt to create a commons which binds all relevant parties to action better than the potential for a tragedy.  This commons has a desire to grow and maintain itself, and is motivated to maintain itself.  If any media outlets are motivated to defect, they are to be penalised by both the other press and the public.

How do I encourage a media outlet to comply with no negative press?

Ask them to publish a policy with regard to no negative press.  If you are an individual interested in interacting with the media, and are concerned with the risks associated with negative press, you can suggest an individual binding agreement in the interim of the media body designing and publishing a relevant policy.

I think someone violated the no negative press policy, what should I do?

At the time of writing, no one is bound by the concept of no negative press.  Should there be desire and pressure in the world to motivate entities to comply, they are more likely to comply.  To create the pressure a few actions can be taken:

  • Write to media entities on public record and request they consider a no negative press policy, outline clearly and briefly your reasons why it matters to you.
  • Name and shame media entities that fail to comply with no negative press, or fail to consider a policy.
  • Vote with your feet – if you find a media entity that fails to comply, do not subscribe to their information and vocally encourage others to do the same.

Meta: this took 45mins to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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The call of the void

L’appel du vide – The call of the void.

When you are standing on the balcony of a tall building, looking down at the ground and on some track your brain says “what would it feel like to jump”.  When you are holding a kitchen knife thinking, “I wonder if this is sharp enough to cut myself with”.  When you are waiting for a train and your brain asks, “what would it be like to step in front of that train?”.  Maybe it’s happened with rope around your neck, or power tools, or what if I take all the pills in the bottle.  Or touch these wires together, or crash the plane, crash the car, just veer off.  Lean over the cliff…  Try to anger the snake, stick my fingers in the moving fan…  Or the acid.  Or the fire.

There’s a strange phenomenon where our brains seem to do this, “I wonder what the consequences of this dangerous thing are”.  And we don’t know why it happens.  There has only been one paper (sorry it’s behind a paywall) on the concept.  Where all they really did is identify it.  I quite like the paper for quoting both (“You know that feeling you get when you’re standing in a high place… sudden urge to jump?… I don’t have it” (Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011). And (a drive to return to an inanimate state of existence; Freud, 1922).

Taking a look at their method; they surveyed 431 undergraduates for their experiences of what they coined HPP (High Place Phenomenon).  They found that 30% of their constituents have experienced HPP, and tried to measure if it was related to anxiety or suicide.  They also proposed a theory.

…we propose that at its core, the experience of the high place phenomenon stems from the misinterpretation of a safety or survival signal. (e.g., “back up, you might fall”)

I want to believe it, but today there are Literally no other papers on the topic.  And no evidence either way.  So all I can say is – We don’t really know.  s’weird.  Dunno.

This week I met someone who uncomfortably described their experience of toying with L’appel du vide.  I explained to them how this is a common and confusing phenomenon, and to their relief said, “it’s not like I want to jump!“.   Around 5 years ago (before I knew it’s name) an old friend recounting the experience of living and wondering what it was like to step in front of moving busses (with discomfort), any time she was near a bus.  I have coaxed a friend out of the middle of a road (they weren’t drunk and weren’t on drugs at the time).  And dragged friends out of the ocean.  I have it with knives, in a way that borderlines OCD behaviour.  The desire to look at and examine the sharp edges.

What I do know is this.  It’s normal.  Very normal.  Even if it’s not 30% of the population, it could easily be 10 or 20%.  Everyone has a right to know that it happens, and it’s normal and you’re not broken if you experience it.  Just as common a shared human experience as common dreams like your teeth falling out, or of flying, running away from groups of people, or being underwater.  Or the experience of rehearsing what you want to say before making a phone call.  Or walking into a room for a reason and forgetting what it was.

Next time you are struck with the L’appel du vide, don’t get uncomfortable.  Accept that it’s a neat thing that brains do, and it’s harmless.  Experience it.  And together with me – wonder why.  Wonder what evolutionary benefit has given so many of us the L’appel du vide.  

And be careful.

Meta: this took one hour to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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  • Men are evil
  • All men are evil
  • Some men are evil
  • most men are evil
  • many men are evil
  • I think men are evil
  • I think all men are evil
  • I think some men are evil
  • I think most men are evil

“I think” weakens your relationship or belief in the idea, hedges that I usually encourage are the some|most type. It weakens your strength of idea but does not reduce the confidence of it.

  • I 100% believe this happens 80% or more of the time (most men are evil)
  • I 75% believe that this happens 100% of the time (I think all men are evil)
  • I 75% believe this happens 20% of the time (I think that some men are evil)
  • I 100% believe that this happens 20% of the time (some men are evil)
  • I (Reader Interprets)% believe that this happens (Reader Interprets)% of the time (I think men are evil)

They are all hedges.  I only like some of them.  When you hedge – I recommend using the type that doesn’t detract from the projected belief but instead detracts from the expected effect on the world.  Which is to say – be confident of weak effects, rather than unconfident of strong effects.

This relates to filters in that some people will automatically add the “This person thinks…” filter to any incoming information.  It’s not good or bad if you do/don’t filter, just a fact about your lens of the world.  If you don’t have this filter in place, you might find yourself personally attached to your words while other’s remain detached from words that seem like they should be more personally attached to.  This filter might explain the difference.

This also relates to Personhood and the way we trust incoming information from some sources.   When we are very young we go through a period of trusting anything said to us, and at some point experience failures when we do trust.  We also discover lying, and any parent will be able to tell you of the genuine childish glee when their children realise they can lie.  These experiences shape us into adults.  We have to trust some sources, we don’t have enough time to be sceptical of all knowledge ever and sometimes we outsource to proven credentialed professionals i.e. doctors.  Sometimes those professionals get it wrong.

This also relates to in-groups and out-groups because listeners who believe they are in your in-group are likely to interpret ambiguous hedges in a neutral to positive direction and listeners who believe they are in the out-group of the message are likely to interpret your ambiguous hedges in a neutral or negative direction.  Which is to say that people who already agree that All men are evil, are likely to “know what you mean” when you say, “all men are evil” and people who don’t agree that all men are evil will read a whole pile of “how wrong could you be” into the statement, “all men are evil”.

Communication is hard.  I know no one is going to argue with my example because I already covered that in an earlier post.

Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

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